Latest Tech Aims to Help Soldiers Shoot Straighter


March 24, 2003, 04:36 PM
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pennsylvania)

March 23, 2003 Sunday REGION EDITION


LENGTH: 795 words



Tests conducted in 1990 at Fort Benning, Ga., found the U.S. Army had a problem. Its soldiers' aim was off.

Way off. On a normal shooting range, basic trainees can hit targets about 220 yards away 80 percent of the time. But under confusing conditions mimicking the "fog of war," Army researchers found the accuracy of infantrymen hefting M16s plummeted to just 20 percent.

Efforts to overcome such errors have led to a major advance in infantry weaponry -- an electronics-packed gun called the XM29 that fires both rifle bullets and grenade-like rounds programmed to explode at a precise distance. Six prototypes of the XM29 have been built, and the Army plans to field the gun in six years.

The XM29 is on the leading edge of research in so-called smart-weaponry poised to change ground warfare in fundamental ways. The Army has been exploring the possibility of guided bullets that can hunt down soldiers on the run. And military laboratories are already testing precision guidance for mortars and tank shells, resembling the smart-weaponry featured in air campaigns since the 1991 Gulf War.

Basic combat rifles, the M4 carbine and the M16, haven't changed much in recent years, and improving them remains a puzzle. "The problem is not the accuracy of the weapon, but the situation where the soldier has to engage quickly. He doesn't necessarily have time to line it up and shoot," says Vernon Shisler, the civilian who heads development of next-generation rifles at the Joint Service Small Arms Program, based at the Picatinny Arsenal, near Rockaway, N.J.

According to data from Vietnam and other conflicts, about 90 percent of rifle engagements occur within about 330 yards, often against enemies zig-zagging or hiding under cover. Shisler says the Fort Benning simulations, in which soldiers ran in place to raise their heart rates and then fired on pop-up and moving targets, helped persuade gun designers they needed a radically new approach to killing or wounding antagonists.

The Army concluded that rifles needed more electronics for targeting, and they needed exploding rounds that could compensate for large aiming errors.

The first smart-weapon to combine those concepts is the XM29. The Army is investing more than $130 million into the blocky, black gun, which fires both regular rifle bullets and air-bursting 20mm rounds that scatter metal fragments at a predetermined distance.

The gun, whose marketing tagline is "No Place To Hide," packs some $28,000 in electronic gear, including a laser range finder that measures the distance to an enemy in the cross hairs. A ballistic computer on the gun then programs an electronic fuse inside the round, which counts the number of rotations it makes as it hurtles through the air, exploding at a precise distance.

Alliant Techsystems, the Edina, Minn., aerospace and defense contractor that designed the gun, says it will let troops get at enemies hiding under cover, or behind walls in urban combat situations. The Army keeps details of the gun's lethal effects classified. But a 20mm shell detonated in a typical corner office would probably kill or wound everyone in the room.

The reliance on electronics can pose hazards. In 1999, a mistimed shell exploded inside a gun during testing, wounding two technicians, one badly enough to require surgery. Lt. Col. Matthew Clarke, who now leads the Army's XM29 program, says the accident prompted redesigns that slowed development by a year and a half. "Unlike a car manufacturer, we can't do a recall. A minor defect means a soldier gets killed. And that is unacceptable to us," he says.

Nevertheless, the new gun is a major upgrade over the M203, the single-shot grenade launcher that soldiers attached to their rifles in Somalia and Afghanistan. Lobbing grenades with the M203 still takes practice, and some guesswork.

As work started on the XM29, managers at the Picatinny Arsenal also began thinking about guided projectiles capable of tracking human targets on the fly.

Last May, for instance, the Army began funding military supplier Schafer Corp., Chelmsford, Mass., to develop a small missle with 200 tiny thrusters around the edge of the projectile to control its course. The Army funded other teams to figure out how to hunt down people by zeroing on their body heat.

Picatinny program manager Kori Spiegel who led the project concedes the idea of an individual "smart-missle" wasn't considered practical by some. "It got the bad name of a Buck Rogers wrist rocket," Spiegel says, and the project was canned by Army bosses in July.

Nevertheless, Spiegel is confident that bullets packed with electronic brains will ultimately find their mark. "It's just a huge leap forward for lethality," she says.

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March 24, 2003, 06:58 PM
*sigh* Are they really planning to force that thing on the troops as is?

It's the OICW, apparently, but they now call it the XM29.

It's 5.56mm "kinetic energy weapon" (as they called it in HK advertisements) has a 10" barrel. The troops had better keep their shots to about 100 yards with that, as it's exactly half the barrel length you need to get optimum performance out of the 5.56mm round...

Lobbing grenades with the M203 still takes practice, and some guesswork.

Why bother with practice when you can have electronic gizmos? :rolleyes:

Jeff White
March 24, 2003, 07:09 PM
HK can advertise the XM29 all day, all week, all year or forever...they still won't make that dog hunt. Lessons learned from that program will be incorporated into future programs. But the XM29 is dead..That information has been posted on the official Infantry School forum.


March 24, 2003, 10:54 PM
Waste of money.

Anything electrically controlled, has Murphys Law all over it.

Nothing is absolutely waterproof

An electronic weapon in direct sunshine, especially desert sunshine, will fail.

Directional EMF, if such a thing exists will
defeat a weapon like this.

Just a waste of money and time.


March 24, 2003, 11:10 PM
SOF magazine has a good rant about rifle training and I suggest everyone read it.Training is **** and the solders are not trusted to carry rds in the chamber.They did this because of AD's due to lack of training.
I am not a fan of the M 16 in any form but it will not make any difference what is issued if the training is lacking.

March 25, 2003, 12:56 AM
The OICW killed 2 techs early on in developement, when a grenade prematured.

Frankly, we couldn't afford to field it anyway at $33,000 a copy.

I just recently read an article where a small gun manufacturer grafted a gas piston/operating rod system into the M-4 package. I will look for it tomorrow; I believe it was SOF. Anyway, I think that this is the system the US needs to adopt. Keep the gas out of the reciever.

Oh, and one other thing. Quadruple ammunition production, so as to allow significantly more trigger time for our troops.

Lack of ammo is why we shoot so little now. We just don't have it to burn.

March 25, 2003, 01:34 AM
You mean this?

It's the Z-M Weapons LR-300ML ( A gas-piston upper receiver for the AR-15 design, reputed to be of top quality and very reliable. Elimates the need for a buffer tube in the stock as well.

This design could, of course, be adopted to any barrel length or configuration.

March 25, 2003, 02:35 AM
Hk has also come up, apparently, with an AR upper that uses the G36 gas system.

Agreed. What's needed is a substantial increase in the amount of training in "fog of war" conditions, not a mechanical solution.

March 25, 2003, 03:53 AM
personally, i think the grenade launcher portion is kind of a neat idea. i DONT see that it has a place as a general issue weapon. But, it might be a neat squad level device. Just take that dang "rifle" off of it and make it a stand alone support weapon. Assuming of course the kinks are worked out (like thats really going to happen)

March 25, 2003, 05:28 AM

You people should look at the ballistics of a 40MM grenade. At 78MPS launch, the .45-70 looks like a .22 Swift compared to it.

Add in the fact that very few regular army units get real range time, and you have a real problem.

Around here, the NG doesn't even have an active range for the M16, although I suspect many get to use their back yards, or so I hope. Mine's available, of course, but not for 40MM, since I don't have EOD to clean up!

The electronics work, or will, given time and weapons oriented people to do the task, although, as noted, there will always be failure modes.

Seems to me, though, that if you can't, or won't, give the training required, you have to go to the
"smart bomb" approach.

'sides all that, I played Army once, and now get to do the electronics/ballistics/math. All fun, of sorts, although not interesting to the non weapons, non nerd types.

As for me, I think the 203/M16 is the way to go, with electronics added as required, but iron on at all times.

If you think a $30K rifle makes sense...

March 25, 2003, 10:52 AM
Yea, that's it, Nightcrawler. Thanks for finding it for me. I had no idea that the mfr. had a web site.

To expand on what has been brought up already, lack of decent ranges is also an issue, depending on the location. Also, current optempo doesn't allow time for lots of range time. Especially for Naval units.

March 25, 2003, 10:54 AM
That's the point I'm trying to make. The military continues to give many of its troops woefully inadequate small arms training (especially those in the reserve component, who are then promised that if they are actually deployed, they'll get an intense train-up before going. I believe many units sent to Iraq got all of 2 weeks worth of training), especially with more difficult to master weapons systems like the M203. Then, when the soldiers can't hit stuff with it, instead of making a concerted effort to improve the weapons training force-wide, the Pentagon boys decide that some expensive Pentagon pet project must be the solution, at the same time giving them an excuse to ask for more money (because you know, all those golf courses on Andrews Air Force Base need maintenance too).

Rant over.

March 25, 2003, 11:29 AM
If you give infantry a weapon where close enough is good enough, they'll just expand their idea of what is close enough.

If you had a teenage girl who can't drive, would you give her a Mazerati so she should make those turns that would have gotten her killed before? Same idea.

Nathaniel Firethorn
March 25, 2003, 12:15 PM
If it's any good, it'll be forbidden in PRNJ.

If it isn't, it'll be mandatory in PRNJ.

- pdmoderator

March 25, 2003, 12:32 PM
Latest Tech Aims to Help Soldiers Shoot Straighter

Whatever happened to PRACTICE?...:scrutiny:

March 25, 2003, 12:50 PM
Why is it that they don't train soldiers how to handle/shoot their weapon? I have yet to talk to anyone who feels they got enough range time in any branch of service. Except folks who were in Secret units. :) :)
The most is if they had extra ammo after qual the armorer and his friends would get to shoot it all up.
IMO 100rds per person per yr should be the least for support personal. But more important is how to handle the gun without shooting yourself in foot. Heck 4 hrs every quarter should do that. I.E. 16 hrs a year. Two instructors per group of 30 and two groups a day.... Five days a week by sixty is 300 soldiers a week by 13weeks is close to 4000 soldiers.
Second year they could test out annually with one class for year.

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